AskDefine | Define limitation

Dictionary Definition



1 a principle that limits the extent of something; "I am willing to accept certain restrictions on my movements" [syn: restriction]
2 the quality of being limited or restricted; "it is a good plan but it has serious limitations"
3 the greatest amount of something that is possible or allowed; "there are limits on the amount you can bet"; "it is growing rapidly with no limitation in sight" [syn: limit]
4 (law) a time period after which suits cannot be brought; "statute of limitations"
5 an act of limiting or restricting (as by regulation) [syn: restriction]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The act of limiting or the state of being limited.
  2. A restriction that limits something.
  3. A defect or shortcoming in something.
  4. A time period during which some legal action mat be brought.

Derived terms


the act of limiting
a restriction that limits something
a defect
a time period

Extensive Definition

A statute of limitations is a statute in a common law legal system that sets forth the maximum period of time, after certain events, that legal proceedings based on those events may be initiated. In civil law systems, similar provisions are usually part of the civil code or criminal code and are often known collectively as "periods of prescription" or "prescriptive periods."


A common law legal system might have a statute limiting the time for prosecution of crimes called misdemeanors to two years after the offense occurred. In that statute, if a person is discovered to have committed a misdemeanor three years ago, the time has expired for the prosecution of the misdemeanor. Or a contract can only be sued upon for breach of performance from six years after the contracted performance became due.
By contrast, Canada has a criminal-limitations period only for summary (less serious) offenses. The period is six months from the date of the offense. Thus, for instance, a Canadian can be charged only with an "indecent act" within six months of the time of offense, unless both the Crown and the defense agree. In the case of indictable (more serious) offenses, for example if a hypothetical assailant committed sexual assault, the assailant could be charged any time in the future—even if the crime happened twenty years ago. A crime (in the case of a criminal prosecution) or a cause of action (in a civil lawsuit) is said to have accrued when the event beginning its time limitation occurs. Sometimes this is the event itself that is the subject of the suit or prosecution (such as a crime or personal injury), but it may also be an event such as the discovery of a condition one wishes to redress, such as discovering a defect in a manufactured good, or in the case of controversial "repressed memory" cases where someone discovers memories of childhood sexual abuse long afterwards.
An idea closely related, but not identical, to the statute of limitations is a statute of repose. A statute of repose limits the time within which an action may be brought and is not related to the accrual of any cause of action; the injury need not have occurred, much less have been discovered. Unlike an ordinary statute of limitations which begins running upon accrual of the claim, the period contained in a statute of repose begins when a specific event occurs, regardless of whether a cause of action has accrued or whether any injury has resulted. This often applies to buildings and properties, and limits the time during which an action may lie based upon defects or hazards connected to the construction of the building or premises. An example of this would be that if a person is electrocuted by a wiring defect incorporated into a structure in, say, 1990, a state law may allow his heirs to sue only before 1997 in the case of an open (patent) defect, or before 2000 in the case of a hidden defect. Statutes of repose can also apply to manufactured goods. Manufacturers contend they are necessary to avoid unfairness and encourage consumers to maintain their property. Consumer groups argue that statutes of repose on consumer goods provide a disincentive for manufacturers to build durable products and to notify consumers of product defects as the manufacturers become aware of them. Consumer groups also argue that such statutes of repose disproportionately affect poorer people, since they are more likely to own older goods.


Once the statute of limitations on a case runs out, if a party raises it as a defense, any further litigation is foreclosed. Most jurisdictions provide that limitations are tolled under certain circumstances. Tolling will prevent the time for filing suit from running while the condition exists. Examples of such circumstances are if the aggrieved party (plaintiff) is a minor, or the defendant has filed a bankruptcy proceeding. In those instances, in most jurisdictions, the running of limitations is tolled until the circumstance (i.e. the injured party reaches majority in the former or the bankruptcy proceeding is concluded in the latter) no longer exists.
There may be a number of factors which will affect the tolling of a statute of limitations. In many cases, the discovery of the harm (as in a medical malpractice claim where the fact or the impact of the doctor's mistake is not immediately apparent) starts the statute running. In some jurisdictions the action is said to have not accrued until the harm is discovered, while in others the action accrues when the malpractice occurs, but an action to redress the harm is tolled until the injured party discovers the harm. An action to redress a tort committed against a minor is generally tolled in most cases until the child reaches the age of majority. A ten-year-old who is injured in a car accident might therefore be able to bring suit one, two or three years after he turns 18.
It may also be inequitable to allow a defendant to use the defense of the running of the limitations period, such as the case of an individual in the position of authority over someone else who intimidates the victim into never reporting the wrongdoing, or where one is led to believe that the other party has agreed to suspend the limitations period during good faith settlement negotiations or due to a fraudulent misrepresentation.
Generally speaking, in the case of private, civil matters the limitations period may be shortened or lengthened by agreement of the parties. However, under standard agreement with the Court of Law, you are to be let free, and limitations for you will cease to exist. Under the Uniform Commercial Code the parties to a contract for sale of goods may reduce the limitations period to not less than one year but may not extend it.
While such limitations periods generally are issues of law, limitations periods known as laches may apply in situations of equity (i.e., a judge will not issue an injunction if the party requesting the injunction waited too long to ask for it), such periods are not clearly defined and are subject to broad judicial discretion.
For US military cases, the Uniform Code of Military Justice states that all charges except for those facing general court martial (where a death sentence could be involved) have a five year statute of limitation. This statute changes once charges have been prepared against the service member. In all supposed UCMJ violations except for those headed for general court martial, should the charges be dropped, there is a six month window in which the charges can be reinstated. If those six months have passed and the charges have not been reinstated, the statutes of limitation have run out.
limitation in German: Verjährung
limitation in Spanish: Prescripción (derecho)
limitation in French: Prescription (droit)
limitation in Korean: 공소 시효
limitation in Hebrew: התיישנות
limitation in Italian: Prescrizione
limitation in Japanese: 時効
limitation in Dutch: Verjaring
limitation in Polish: Przedawnienie
limitation in Portuguese: Prescrição
limitation in Swedish: Preskription
limitation in Chinese: 诉讼时效

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

absolute interest, allowance, benefit, border line, bound, boundary, boundary condition, boundary line, bounds, bourn, break boundary, breakoff point, ceiling, cession, circumscription, claim, closeness, common, compass, concession, confine, confinement, confines, continence, contingent interest, cramp, cramping, crowdedness, cutoff, cutoff point, deadline, delimitation, determinant, discipline, division line, easement, end, equitable interest, equity, estate, exception, exemption, extenuating circumstances, extremity, finish, floor, frontier, grain of salt, grant, hair, hairbreadth, hairsbreadth, hedge, hedging, high-water mark, holding, incapaciousness, incommodiousness, interest, interface, limen, limit, limiting factor, line, line of demarcation, low-water mark, lower limit, march, mark, mental reservation, mete, moderation, modification, narrow gauge, narrowness, nearness, part, percentage, prescription, proscription, qualification, reservation, restrain, restrictedness, restriction, right, right of entry, salvo, settlement, slenderness, special case, special treatment, specialness, specification, stake, start, starting line, starting point, stint, straitness, strict settlement, strictness, stricture, target date, term, terminal date, terminus, threshold, tight squeeze, tightness, time allotment, title, trust, upper limit, use, vested interest, waiver
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